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Army Secretary's flip-flop puts gay servicemembers' careers in jeopardy

WASHINGTON – Talk about flip-flopping -- and putting the careers of gay and lesbian servicemembers in jeopardy.

John M. McHugh, the Secretary of the Army, said Wednesday that he was essentially ignoring the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy because he is against discharging active-duty servicemembers who have candidly told him that they are gay. He has been discussing the sensitive issue with enlisted soldiers as part of the Pentagon’s review of DADT.

But a day later, McHugh issued a big fat mea culpa to the press and apologized for misleading the gay and lesbian servicemembers.

More than 13,500 gay and lesbian Americans have been denied the ability to serve – including more than 800 specialists with vital skills such as Arabic linguists, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech in January, demanded the end of DADT. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have asked Congress to repeal the Clinton-era law so that gays and lesbians can serve openly. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney supports Obama on the issue.

McHugh is the civilian leader of the Army and is a former GOP congressman from New York. He initially spoke to reporters at a breakfast on Wednesday at the Pentagon.

McHugh told the reporters that it would be counterproductive to take disciplinary action against servicemembers who are being open and honest with him while he was conducting his research on DADT. McHugh's comments -- which were considered highly significant as a possible change in direction of military policy -- were widely reported in the media and on the Internet.

But hold your horses.

By Thursday, McHugh was apologizing for his comments:

"Yesterday, in response to a series of questions from reporters regarding 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,' I made several statements that require further comment.

"First, while President Obama has asked Congress to repeal 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,' it is and remains the law of the land ...

"Second, I was incorrect when I stated that Secretary Gates had placed a moratorium on discharges of homosexual servicemembers. There is no moratorium of the law and neither Secretary Gates nor I would support one."

"Third, with regard to the three soldiers who shared their views and thoughts with me on 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,' I might better have counseled them that statements about their sexual orientation could not be treated as confidential and could result in their separation under the law."

At the same time, the Defense Department has suddenly discovered a major snag in its DADT study. Officials came to realize that talking to gay and lesbian soldiers about their experiences and opinions breaks the first rule of the existing policy: Don't ask.

In other words, the Defense Department broke the rule, asked the questions, the servicemembers answered the questions, and now those who said they were gay or lesbian can be drummed out of the service.

McHugh says the Defense Department will now implement the following changes:

"The working group is likely to utilize a third party from outside of the department to solicit these views so soldiers can speak candidly and without fear of separation. I urge every soldier to share his or her views and suggestions on this important issue through this channel. This is the appropriate way to do so."

It's too late, Secretary McHugh. Your flip-flopping is shameful, you have put gay and lesbian servicemember's careers in harm's way, and you have dishonored your position. Shame on you.